Synching customer value and product/service units

This management tip from The Intelligent Leader is worth noting (here).  I like it because it’s a concrete example of how a firm moved from product to value-based pricing — Cemex is differentiating what is often considered a commodity product.

Differentiation by combining basic product value with another attribute(s) — in this case a firm time commitment — is the key to this transition.  Whether it is more service, less risk, tighter time windows, there usually is another attribute that your best customers value.  More importantly, they’re usually willing to pay for it.

Is operational proficiency overvalued?

Great Fire -- Narragansett Pier Casino

Great Fire of 1900 -- Narragansett Pier Casino

Most of the tips in The Intelligent Leader blog’s Management Tip of the Day are thought-provoking.  However, Wednesday’s tip (here) got under my skin a bit.  And not just because the idea that “risk taking” wasn’t a valued trait seems quaint considering how intensely the Wall Street Casino is burning right now.  And I think most of us will agree that raw ambition is a mixed blessing and that inspiration is a virtue in leaders.

However, I believe that a strong understanding of operations and initiative management must be part of the package a leader brings to the table.  To that end, I can’t let the perceived swipe at operational proficiency go by without some comments about how it fits into leadership and hiring. 

  1. Execution makes “opportunities” real.  How else do openings identified in confusing and ambiguous times get exploited?  Strategy + Execution — one without the other is useless.  The hiring executive should ask the “operator” to give an example of how he/she made strategy concrete via execution.
  2. Policies and procedures have their place.  They can, of course, stifle innovation and initiative if they monitor and control too closely.  Or even, they can focus on the wrong topics.  Again, interviewers should ask probing questions about how the candidate operationalized innovation, especially focusing on lessons learned about over-control and its consequences.
  3. Risk taking is an essential part of the leadership package.  Risk management is a blind spot Continue reading

Showing real weaknesses as a leader…

This post from The Intelligent Leader blog’s Management Tip of the Day sounds good, but the comment by Tom Ryan rips the bark off the post.  As Tom notes (cleaned up slightly):

Every time (and I mean every time) someone (including myself) is asked to list a flaw, it’s always workaholism. No one ever says, I’m not very detail oriented, or I can’t multitask. or I’ve lost interest in my career.  It’s always I worked too hard and spend too many hours in the office.

My favorite non-flaw flaws are “I care too much” and “I’m too impatient about making change happen”.  Yeesh.

I do, however, think that Tom missed the broader point.  It is the leader who should be open and vulnerable about a real personal or business challenge.  When he/she doesn’t do so, that’s when the behavior Tom describes is most likely to happen.  I hope I’ve done that with my team (see my post here on “Improving Trust”).

Manage your own job description

I’ve been reading The Intelligent Leader blog on washingtonpost.com.  It channels a lot of content from the Harvard Business School, but don’t hold that against it.  The editor Scott Berinato strikes a good balance between of syndicated content and fresh comment.  The Management Tip of the Day is a nice feature as well.  Today’s entry hits on a common issue for project, program, and portfolio managers:

Most managers sabotage their productivity by grappling with an endless list of demands from others. They assume — wrongly — that those demands are requirements and that they have no personal discretion or control over their jobs.

In the tech industry, this trap is an almost universal rite of passage.  When you hear someone described as “not strategic,” it is because they’ve made themselves “order takers”.  They include one set of tips, but I though it was worth modifying them below:

  • Slow down — that is, don’t immediately react.  You’ll be surprised how many demands simply disappear.
  • Set priorities — and insist that requesters do the same.
  • Stick to those priorities — and point out mutually-exclusive or competing priorities to others.

The executive I report to is excellent at handling such requests.  He clearly indicates that our organization wants to do whatever is best for the firm — but “best” means we’ll have to ask questions and insist on transparency w/r/t the request’s impacts.  Does our requester understand the impact on other priorities (sometimes the requester’s own)?  Who is the sponsor for this?  What will the executive team say when we go for approval?

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